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Use Ranking Tiers to Find Draft Day Value (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Ryan Melosi | @RTMelos | Featured Writer
Aug 12, 2018

By the time football season rolls around, fantasy football rankings become a part of every player’s life. Whether they’re pre-draft or weekly rankings, we love to look at them. We love to make our own. We especially like to tell other people how wrong their rankings are.

How many times have you argued with someone over their ranking of a player just to have it end up in a friendly wager? Our fantastic podcast hosts Bobby Sylvester and Mike Tagliere did just this, making a bet involving Sammy Watkins and Amari Cooper last season with the loser having to do an entire NFL combine on video for the whole Twitterverse to see.

It can be argued that Bobby and Tags are both losers for hyping two players that finished WR31 and WR32 (sorry, fellas!), but in the sense of their bet, I’d argue neither one really “lost.” Cooper outscored Watkins by a measly three points in standard scoring over the entire year, so Bobby will take his lumps and post his video soon, but with that little of a scoring difference who cares which finished ahead of the other?

That brings us to the point of this article: tier-based rankings. Does it matter that Cooper finished WR31 while Watkins was WR32? Of course not!

Those three points are negligible over the course of an entire season. It could have been a foot was barely out of bounds, a bad drop, a non-challenge, or any number of tiny things that happen throughout the year. The thing that we should take away from their seasons is they were in the same tier of receivers – boom-or-bust weekly WR3 options.

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Overall Tiers
If you go to our rankings page, you’ll see our Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) of over 400 players are broken down into 12 different tiers. You’ll notice there are fewer players in the top tiers and they gradually expand until we’re getting about 50 in each. I’ll be honest and say when I’m doing my personal rankings, my tiers would be significantly smaller at the top. I’d cut the first tier off at Antonio Brown at number five.

Why? Because I can see the argument for taking Brown, and anyone ranked ahead of him, at the number one pick. The four running backs have legitimate claims, and Brown has been the most consistently valuable fantasy asset over the last several seasons. I can’t see an argument for DeAndre Hopkins over Brown or Alvin Kamara over any of the top four running backs, so Brown is a good place for me to cut off that first tier.

This is just one example and I could (and do) have my own full-tier lists. As I said in the second sentence, we love to dispute others’ rankings! These are all going to be subjective, and I encourage anyone to make their own. The best thing overall tier rankings are going to do is give you an idea of what sort of players you’re looking at when your pick in a certain round comes. You’ll know if you’re likely to see a bunch of QB1s or RB3s and you can adjust your draft strategy accordingly.

Positional Tiers
In the link above there’s a drop-down box to sort by position to where you’ll see the breakdown of tiers by position. While looking at overall tiers is useful for your pre-draft strategy, getting into these positional tiers is really where you can set yourself apart. The best way to illustrate these positional tiers is asking yourself how you value each position. In a recent superflex dynasty startup draft, which essentially is a two-quarterback league, I was targeting Andrew Luck who was the last of my Tier 1 quarterbacks left on the board. Unfortunately, he was grabbed two spots ahead of my pick, and it made me reevaluate where I was at.

Looking at my positional tiers helped guide me to my next pick. I had Evan Engram, a 23-year-old tight end coming off the best rookie season for the position in history, as a Tier 1 tight end, while there were about seven Tier 2 quarterbacks left. Knowing I had another pick coming in six picks, even if there was a run on those Tier 2 quarterbacks, I knew I could get a guy I liked that would give me similar production. Why take the risk of my Tier 1 tight end being gone?

Unfortunately, my story has an unhappy ending. None of my Tier 2 quarterbacks were taken between picks, and I decided to roll the dice with my next pick after the turn in hopes that one of them would fall. They didn’t, and now I hate my team, but the tier-based drafting did its job. I just failed it.

Don’t get hung up on my individual rankings of Luck and Engram for that league. Ultimately, my anecdote is just an example, but one used to note how important it is to not only sort your players into tiers but also know how you’re going to value your positions. You might decide you want to take a Tier 2 running back over a Tier 1 wide receiver. It’s your team, and it’s entirely up to you, but having a clear draft strategy is going to help immensely.

In the end, don’t worry about the difference between drafting the preseason RB6 or RB9 as they’re likely going to fall into the same tier — a workhorse running back. Grab the guy you like. These set-in-stone number rankings can often start to cloud our judgment. Make your tiers, stick to your tiers, and try to create as much value as possible come draft day.

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Ryan Melosi is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ryan, check out his archive and follow him @RTMelosi.

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